about the troubled rise to superstardom are a staple in the diet
of bad movie aficionados. Power. Fame. Money. Betrayal. We get all
this and Pia Zadora too in The Lonely Lady (1983), a delectable
trash classic based on the book by Harold Robbins.
Lonely Lady starts off with an auditory bang as the cheesy title
song (a prerequisite for showbiz potboilers) is warbled over the
opening credits. Pia Zadora arrives alone at the Hollywood awards
presentation ceremony. The event is actually called "The Awards
Presentation Ceremony". The generic designation only calls
attention to the fact that this is definitely not the Academy Awards.
to another awards ceremony years earlier where pigtailed Valley
girl Jerilee Randall (Zadora) receives a High School writing award.
She tries to make a political statement with her acceptance speech,
but is cut off by a shrewish faculty member.
that night at a swinging teenage party, Jerilee and a school chum
move spastically to a distinctly 80's rock song. Strangely, they're
not the worst offenders. Everyone at the party boogies as if they're
having a seizure. Youwould think that there was at least one good
dancer at Valley High.
bad boy Ray Liotta tells Pia that her award, "Looks like a
penis." After dunking her in the pool, innocent shenanigans
suddenly turn violent when Liotta attacks her, rips open her dress,
and rapes her with a garden hose, "I'm gonna give you something
mother (Bibi Besch) proves she won't be winning the Mother of the
Year anytime soon when she refuses to call the police. "These
are Beverly Hills people," she tells the doctor, "I can't
afford the lawyers to fight them." Displaying her utter lack
of maternal instinct, she explains that Jerilee "wouldn't want
the neighbors pointing at her and whispering about her behind her
back any more than I do."
screenwriter Walter Thornton (Lloyd Bochner) visits Jerilee during
her recuperation. They talk shop and Bochner begins to spend more
and more time with jailbait Pia. During a romantic montage (the
first of several) they share their first kiss.
too old for you!" Besch insists.
love Walter. I enjoy being with him, I admire him, I wanna go to
bed with him."
finds this as distasteful as we do and hilariously cover her ears,
"I am not listening to this! I am not listening to this!"
a backyard wedding reception Walter beds his child bride, or at
lest tries to. "I'm sorry Jeri, it's been a very tiring day."
the meantime, Jerilee's first book makes the bestseller list. To
show the passing of time, we get this dubbed line, "It's taken
long enough, more than a year since I wrote it." The two of
them seem happy as they read the reviews of her "sensitive
and perceptive stories".
an evening out, Walter glad-hands his fellow Hollywood types, including
a rather desperate actress. "Who would want to be an actress?"
Pia seriously asks. It's quite funny coming from an actress who's
made her own dubious career choices.
this business you can't afford self respect." Walter answers.
becomes Walters assistant. On the set of his latest movie she encounters
catty make-up man Kenneth Nelson. "I hope you can spell, darling."
is her snappy retort.
the temperamental leading lady (her name is Adolph!) demands re-writes,
Jerilee tries her hand at scriptwriting, but Walter can't handle
the competition. "Stick to the job you're hired for."
When he sees that her changes for a difficult scene are good, he
passes the ideas off as his own. Things quickly go downhill from
a particularly bitter fight, Jerilee invites Walter to bed and he
cruelly waves a garden hose at her, "Is this more your kick?!"
moves out and gets her own place. When swishy director pal Guy Jackson
takes her to a party, she meets actor George Ballantine (Jared Martin).
Jerilee is understandably desperate for some real lovin'. Their
affair gets of to a steamy start when she goes down on him in the
shower. When she reveals that she's pregnant, Ballantine proves
what a jerk he is.
a short stay in the hospital, Jerilee deadpans, "Mother, I've
had an abortion."
don't know why you ever left Walter." As callous and judgmental
as her mother might seem, she is right. After all, Walter would've
never been able to get Jerilee pregnant.
on Jerilee's hit parade of reprehensible lovers is slick nightclub
owner Vincent Dacosta (Joseph Cali) who makes vague promises about
producing her screenplay before giving her a job as a hostess. She
begins dating him. It all starts out innocent enough with horseback
riding and ice cream cones, but soon it becomes apparent what kind
of man he really is.
Jerilee runs into Guy, she tries to explain that Dacosta, "knows
a lot of people."
does my garbage man."
doesn't take kindly to having his name besmirched. After doing a
line of coke, he possessively tells Jerilee, "If you write
you write for me."
the last straw. Pia puts her foot down and acts her little heart
out as she declares, "If I write for anyone Vinnie, I WRITE
that she may have blown her only chance, she makes it up to Vinnie
with a night of decadent and gratuitous lovemaking. They do it in
a bed, on a pool table, and in a hot tub. While in the throws of
passion, Dacosta hilariously forces her to take drugs.
if that weren't bad enough, he pimps Jerilee to an Italian producer
and an international starlet. In their hotel room, the actress is
quite complementary as she undresses Jerilee. "Your eyes are
most beautiful, your script is beautiful, everything is beautiful.
I know it will be very good," she coos as the producer watches.
Pia returns to regale Dacosta with all the gory details, she finds
him in his office with two naked broads. He tosses her script back
and laughs in her face. The combination of lesbian sex and betrayal
by a greasy Italian slime ball pushes Pia over the edge. She literally
goes bonkers and it's one of the most memorable freak-outs in cinema
Pia tries to scrub herself clean in the shower (with her clothes
still on!) Then she trashes her apartment while soaking wet and
emoting like nothing you've ever seen before. The scene culminates
with an enraged Pia pounding on the keys of her typewriter as the
faces of the men who've wronged her swirl in front of her. "Damn
you! Damn you!" she shouts as the faces crumble away into an
animated spinning vortex.
the attending physician at the hospital tells Jerilee's mom about
her complete mental collapse, she shrugs it off, "She's always
isn't much help either. Whenever he gets near, Jerilee goes into
hysterical screaming fits. As she lies in a catatonic state, it's
old pal Guy who keeps watch at her bedside. "Where are you
Jerilee, where have you gone?" he asks in what we assume is
a rhetorical question. "Now come out and win Jerilee! I don't
wanna lose you. I love you." This brings a tear to her eye,
probably because the only man left in her life is a gay director
with an unappealing moustache.
battles her way back to sanity in a montage. When Guy brings her
a portable typewriter she begins working on a new screenplay about
her experiences in Hollywood, "This is me, it's my story, it's
my child, it's a part of me." The script is for the very same
movie that we're watching! Hollywood is finally interested, but
deals and compromises have to be made. Without Jerilee's ex-lover
George Ballantine as star, the project won't get a greenlight.
first Jerilee refuses, but an agent suggests she take the deal,
"You've already had one abortion sweetheart, don't make it
father." She quips.
agrees to meet with producer Tom Castel and realizes that she'll
have to go through more of the same when Castel's bosomy wife beckons
her into an outdoor Jacuzzi. "Won't you come and join me Jerilee?"
says the spider to the fly, "It's wonderfully relaxing."
story comes full circle when we cut back to the "awards presentation
ceremony". During the rather low-rent proceedings, we discover
that Jerilee's script for The Hold Outs is nominated for
best original screenplay. She wins and as she makes her way to the
stage, the awards show orchestra plays an appropriately lush version
of The Lonely Lady theme song.
the podium, Jerilee makes the standard awards show "thank you's",
but the moment is bittersweet. While looking into the faces of those
who've screwed her over (literally and figuratively) she decides
to tell it like it is, "I don't suppose I'm the only one who's
had to fuck her way to the top." The audience gasps, apparently
shocked by her brutal honesty. This is supposedly the movies scandalous
denouement. But after the graphic scenes of rape, sex, drugs, and
degradation, hearing the main character say "fuck" in
front of a bunch of people isn't terribly shocking.
sadder but wiser Pia refuses her award and walks off the stage accompanied
by jeers from the audience. As she makes her way out of the auditorium
and across the plaza, she is alone, but her head is held high.
Laaaaa-daaaay, Oooooon-lllllly you can help yourself."
Zadora should've helped herself to some better career advice. After
the failure of Butterfly (1982) and The Lonely Lady,
Pia's bid for stardom fizzled. Another notable blonde, Bo Derek,
was suffering similar setbacks around the same time. Both were making
disastrous choices under the guidance of their Svengali-like older
husbands. But where Derek had the success of 10 (1979) to
try and build a career on, Zadora's only cinematic assets were her
apple cheeks and perky breasts, which were the real stars of The
Lonely Lady. While her attempt to become a sex goddess may have
been a flop, by the end of the 80's Zadora had a successful recording
career, Vegas act, and new family to keep her busy. A truly happy
Lonely Lady's box office failure marked the end of an era. It
was the last of Harold Robbins' books to make it to the big screen
but what a way to go. It may not have been as grand and glossy as
Cool Cinema Trash favorites The Carpetbaggers or Where
Love Has Gone (both 1964) but it is by far the most graphic
and audacious of the trashy Hollywood adaptations. Plus it has Pia,
and that always counts for something.